How Do We Keep the Sabbath?

How Do We Keep the Sabbath?

By Kelly McDonald, Jr.

8 “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. 9 Six days you shall labor and do all your work, 10 but the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your male or female servant, nor your animals, nor any foreigner residing in your towns. 11 For in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Exodus 20:8-11).

Since the Bible is clear that we should not work or perform normal labors on the Sabbath, we might pose the question: “What should we do or not do on the Sabbath?” In the verses from Exodus, God mentions that we should do our work and our labor for six days. Work refers to our normal job. Labor refers to strenuous activities. Keep in mind that these are not restrictive rules. These are rules that guide us towards the proper way to rest and give us freedom. We should look at the Sabbath as a day of freedom! We have freedom from our weekly job and weekly chores. We also have freedom from the anxieties/burdens of life. Our actions on Sabbath should reflect this.

This article is not an all-inclusive list of “do’s” and “don’ts” for the Sabbath; it is a guide to give you some practical examples. We can plainly see from the Bible verses above that we should not go to our normal work on the Sabbath. We have another article to help guide you towards getting off of work for Sabbath (click here to read that article). This part of the commandment is easy to identify. The Bible also mentions getting our “labors” finished in six days. How do we specifically define “labor”? As mentioned above, labor refers to strenuous activities. These activities include, but are not limited to, mowing the yard, other types of yard work, washing your car, cleaning the entire house, and things of that nature.

A Sabbath-days mess should certainly be cleaned up. As an example, if you a garment or item is stained and needs to be washed immediately, by all means do so. The issue of exercising on the Sabbath comes up often. Exercise and playing sports on Sabbath are clearly contrary to the “rest” aspect of the Sabbath. We must remember that resting your body is part of the Sabbath.

Children shouldn’t be made to do homework or normal chores. They should look forward to the Sabbath and enjoy it; you don’t want them burdened down on it. The Sabbath is also not a day to do everything you forgot to do during the week. This makes the Sabbath about your desires/goals and not God’s direction for your life. Don’t dump your leftovers on His day.

His ways are higher than our ways (Isaiah 55:6-9). It’s not a time to do the shopping we missed during the week. You always want to honor God and remember how HE feels about our behavior first and foremost. It is a day to honor Him. From time to time, emergencies happen. Jesus mentioned a situation where an ox fell into a ditch on the Sabbath (Luke 14:5). Obviously this requires that we help the ox. Situations where someone’s life is on the line require immediate action. Another example might be a busted pipe. It will have to be taken care of immediately. If something can be safely “patched up” and then fully resolved after Sabbath, then by all means do so. If you shove an ox in the ditch and create your own problem, it’s not an ox in the ditch. These situations are exceptions, not the rule.

Always remember that God asks us to refrain from work and regular activities not as an end, but as a means to an end. The physical rest on the Sabbath is a means to a greater end – to help us make that intimate connection to the God of the Universe. Notice that God calls the Sabbath holy time. We refrain from common activities to focus for 24 hours on holy work – the gospel of the Kingdom of God. This includes praying, reading the word, fellowshipping with believers, teaching, praying for other people, family time, and carrying out our Kingdom assignments. We can listen to sermons and teachings. We can listen to worship music that helps us focus on God.

In Exodus 20:8-11, God tells us that our families should also be free from burdens on this special day. This teaches us that the Sabbath is an opportunity to also spend time with our families.

We live in a world foretold by the prophet Daniel where “many shall run to and fro, and knowledge shall be increased” (Daniel 12:4). During the other six days of the week, families are often divided by activities. Parents are going to work and children are going to school. Later in the day, there are various afterschool activities or visiting with other family and friends. We are truly darting “to and fro” as the Bible foretold. Friday night is a great time to slow down and bring everyone together. It is a time to share our blessings and burdens. The meal on Friday night should be something we look forward to. Wouldn’t it be nice to spend more time with your family? We can focus on God as a whole.

Some Sabbath keepers and Messianic groups practice a short service called an Erev Shabbat ceremony. Erev Shabbat literally means “the evening of the Sabbath.” In this service, you spend time blessing your children and spouse. It is a powerful way to bring the family together to focus on the Lord (click here to see a an Erev Shabbat service). Be creative and find ways to make this time special for your family. One way we can do this is to celebrate the day!

In Exodus 31:16, the Lord said, “The Israelites are to observe the Sabbath, celebrating it for the generations to come as a lasting covenant.” The Hebrew word translated as celebrate is shamar, and it means to guard, protect, or celebrate. One of the ways we can guard our minds from wandering away from God on the Sabbath is to celebrate Him! The devil will send all sorts of things your way to distract you from the Sabbath—anxious thoughts about situations in your life, calls from your job, and attitudes from ourselves or other people. When we celebrate, we are so focused on God that those things can be drowned out! Other things become less important. Let’s enter the gates of Sabbath with thanksgiving and praise!

More Information on Family Time and Children’s Activities (with help from Bill and Lanice Shults)
I am often asked about children and the Sabbath. Children have a lot of energy. One really important key to resolving this question is to make sure your children get plenty of physical activity during the week. In general, most children in America do not get enough physical activity. They are boxed indoors at school, after school, or daycare programs. Children need to run off that excess energy. Make sure on Friday before sunset that you take them outside and run them around. Have them ride bicycles or something really physical. Make it fun and exciting; make it a competition! If there’s a competition, be sure to keep score with who wins. Be creative in this area. There are ways to lessen that energy before sunset on Friday.

The main reason God set apart the Sabbath is to honor and spend time with Him. A sub-reason for the Sabbath is to spend quality time with the family. So, we learn to spend time with the family to the extent we bond with them. We also want to focus attention on honoring God. During the week, you might have to put on that Christian video to keep your children distracted. On the Sabbath, change it up and do some interactive things with them. Picture books are great, as children love pictures and illustrations. You can always take a family walk with them. Play “gettings” with the children where you tickle them. Another fun thing kids like to do is arts and crafts. You could gather materials and build Noah’s Ark. Make puppets with them and do a puppet show based on Bible stories. Make them tell the story. You can make finger puppets (even with popsicle sticks).

This will help them to learn about the Bible and make it fun all at the same time. Of course, you can pray with your children and read the Bible with them. As the old saying goes, “the family that prays together stays together.” Explain stories in the Bible in a way they can understand. You can always come up with Bible lessons for children to teach them before or after church on Sabbath. Have Sabbath school at home before church. The BSA website has some great resources for children on our website: This will teach them to look forward to the Sabbath as a time when they get interactive, quality time with their family. It will leave a life-long imprint on their lives. No matter where they go or what they do in life, they will know what their parents are doing from Friday sunset through Saturday sunset. This will instill in them the greater lesson about spending interactive time with the Heavenly Father and the Family of God.

As it pertains to the Sabbath, a great verse to build on is Isaiah 58:13-14: “13 ‘If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the Lord’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words, 14 then you will find your joy in the Lord, and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.’ For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

God gave us this day to slow down and enjoy His blessings in our lives. Some blessings are spiritual, some are material, and some are mental or emotional. A deep revelation from God is a spiritual breakthrough. A passing score on a test is material, but it also lifts mental and emotional stress off of us. The Sabbath is a time of reflection on the blessings we received from our Creator in the past week.

The Sabbath is a weekly appointment to meet with our Savior. There is a tremendous spiritual and physical refreshing available on this day.  The body, mind, emotions and spirit need rest from the rigors of our daily lives. It’s easy to say – “I can do that any time.” As a general rule, we should always focus on God. However, throughout the week we don’t because we are distracted by work, responsibilities, and other business. Instead of telling God that what He said is not valid, let’s just do what He said. The Sabbath is only 14.2% of our week – it will change your life to dedicate this time to the Lord.

To learn more about keeping the Sabbath, check out our article “Spiritual Reasons for the Sabbath” (click here). 

Kelly McDonald, Jr.

BSA President –

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